Simon Bird and Joe Thomas claim they plan to evolve the show, but it still looks like an unashamed imitation of it’s genre-defining forbear The Inbetweeners to us, which is probably why after airing a pilot last September, C4 decided not to commission a full series. It isn’t a bad comedy, but it certainly isn’t a patch on the show that brought the word ‘clunge’ into the public conscious and before anyone laments us for comparing the two, if it wasn’t for the fact that they are set 80 years apart, they would be practically identical. Playing men who for various reasons have refused to go and fight in the trenches, Simon Bird is the pedantic yet intelligent central character, Joe Thomas plays his nice but nervous side-kick and they all have great difficulty getting laid.. (more details here).
Channel 4 bosses may have thought the blatant lack of originality went against their remit, but having seen the success that The Inbetweeners achieved, Sky have snapped it up. Admittedly, this is the first time in their recent ‘Original Content’ drive that Murdoch’s minions have actually taken another broadcaster’s programme (albeit with no hard-feelings), yet many of their other new vehicles are simply carbon-copies of shows that have proved popular in the past.
Trollied is a tribute to The Office, yet despite a heavyweight cast and the influence of Ash Atalla, who worked on the Beeb’s ground-breaking comedy, it failed to capture the imagination of the public. The Cafe was a painfully rubbish version of the The Royle Family, all the hum-drum reality was there, but the nuanced humour was absent, while Mount Pleasant was described by one critic as “Crossroads with occasional swearing”. Presumably that’s not the programme they were looking to copy, yet their sitcom was poor enough to obscure the muse it was aping. In essence all the comedies which were written by and starred comedians with a “proven track record” (be they Craig Cash, Ralf Little or Jane Horrocks) fell flat – apart from one. Ruth Jones’ Stella, more than tips its cap at Gavin and Stacey, yet unlike the others, the magic is revived.
Quite possibly the most genuinely original of Sky’s comedy unveilings was Spy, which received favourable reviews and returned for a Christmas special while also bagging a second series. Of the whole lot, this was the comedy written by relative unknown Simeon Goulden. Go figure.
Their pay-per-view format obviously means that Sky have to work harder to get their programmes out there, yet we can’t help but feel that if they invested their silos of cash in fresher ideas and stopped trying to create ‘Another ______’ then they might have more success. Maybe these are lessons that channel bosses might learn in due course and we certainly shouldn’t be hammering them for finally taking the plunge and making an effort to generate content of their own, but it seems their habit of pinching other people’s most successful programmes (Lost, Mad Men anyone?) is proving a hard one to break.